Joie de Vivre

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Joie de vivre (‘joy of living’) is a French phrase often used in English to express a cheerful enjoyment of life; an exultation of spirit.

It ‘can be a joy of conversation, joy of eating, joy of anything one might do… And joie de vivre may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life, a Weltanschauung [worldview]. Robert’s Dictionnaire says ‘joie’ is ‘sentiment exaltant ressenti par toute la conscience,’ that is, involves one’s whole being.’

Casual use of the phrase in French dates to French Roman Catholic archbishop and poet Fénelon in the late 17th century, but it was only brought into literary prominence in the 19th century, first by French historian Michelet (1857) in his pantheistic work ‘Insecte,’ to contrast the passive life of plants with animal joie de vivre, and then by French novelist Émile Zola in his book ‘La joie de vivre’ (1883–84).

Thereafter, it took on increasing weight as a mode of life, evolving at times almost into a secular religion in the early 20th century; and subsequently fed into the Lacanian psychoanalytical emphasis on ‘a jouissance beyond the pleasure principle’ in the latter half of the century – a time when its emphasis on enthusiasm, energy and spontaneity gave it a global prominence with the rise of hippie culture.

20th-century proponents of self-actualization such as Abraham Maslow or Carl Rogers saw, as one of the by-products, the rediscovery of what the latter called ‘the quiet joy in being one’s self…a spontaneous relaxed enjoyment, a primitive joie de vivre.’ Joie de vivre has also been linked to English psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott’s concept of a sense of play, and of access to the true self.

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